Alien Book Club

Members of Alien Book Club include Andrea Bauer, Allison Payonk, Thomas Coyle, Meek, Anita Bauer, and Amber DeBellis.

Former Aitkin drummer joins a punk band in the Twin Cities scene

In years past, locals may recall Finding Blakesley, an Aitkin-based band of young musicians, performing at venues like Wahkon Days, McGregor Wild Rice Days and the Aitkin County Fair. Though drummer Thomas Coyle parted with his bandmates, Eddy Simonsom and Sampson Perrine, following their graduation from Aitkin High School in 2015, he hasn’t set his guitar aside. He’s now performing with a new act, Alien Book Club, whose music founding band member Anita Bauer describes as a “jazzy punk.”

Getting the band together

The musical project that became Alien Book Club was started by Anita and her wife, Andrea Bauer, around 2017. The two had been living in a cabin in western Wisconsin, where they started recording demos. Coyle first met Anita through an online forum and began as a drummer for her previous band, Marsupial Soup. He had played on several of the Bauers demos since then, and eventually, Anita asked him to join on as a member of the band.

The band found their keyboardist, Meek, online. “He was posting some of his beats he had made, looking for rappers,” Anita said. Liking what she heard, Anita reached out to him and found he was interested in joining Alien Book Club. Anita met Amber DeBellis, a guitarist, while working with her at a record store. Allison Payonk, a saxophonist, joined in after jamming with Andrea through another friend in the Twin Cities music scene. Anita emphasized the important role online connection had played for bringing the group together. “There wouldn’t be an Alien Book Club without online spaces for band lovers.”

Speaking on the more abstract roles these members brought to the group, Anita said that DeBellis was a peace keeper who helped the band collaborate, and Payonk brought “the memes,” Coyle adding that she had a youthful energy. Meek, Anita said, brought the spice, adding interesting and unexpected elements to the group’s music.

Anita noted that, when it came to the band’s name, there wasn’t that exciting of a story. The group had formerly been “Wilt Champion and the Dropouts,” which Andrea called “the most forgettable name ever.” As some members of the group were watching the show “Futurama” at the time, she said, they settled on Alien Book Club, adding that they liked the ABC initialism.

Musical backgrounds

Explaining her history with musical performance, Anita said she moved to Las Vegas her senior year of high school, where she met Andrea while performing in choir. She also drummed in a band at that time, though she stated she wasn’t very good at it. Eventually she moved to guitar. Andrea herself had started playing piano as a kid and had played violin through middle and high school. She had picked up bass guitar to play alongside Anita, which led to her joining in with Alien Book Club.

Coyle had played guitar before he picked up drumming with Finding Blakesley in high school. Reflecting on his four or five years with the Aitkin group, he said, “We were basically just a cover band, but we jammed a lot on the side.” During his freshman year at Hamline University in St. Paul, he joined in with Anita as part of Marsupial Soup. He also drummed and participated in jazz band during his collegiate career.

Style and influences

Elaborating on the music the band plays, Anita described it as “like punk music in feel and energy, but closer to prog rock or jazz fusion in the actual composition.” She also compared their music to “really fast King Crimson (an English prog rock band), but with anime influences.” She laughed, “We try to keep it fresh.” She cited several Japanese series whose opening theme songs had inspired the band, including “K-on,” “Angel Beats,” and “Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya.”

A key influence for all members of the band was Frank Zappa. “It’s kinda a required law in Alien Book Club that you listen to a lot of Zappa,” Anita said, noting that every single member of the band had their own Zappa phase.

Every time a new member joins the group, Anita said, the band rethinks and evolves upon the style of music they play. When it was her and Andrea, the two had a bedroom pop, lo-fi indie sound. Coyle brought his 90s punk rock influences to that style, and DeBellis’ guitar work contributed to this style as well. Meek’s keys and Payonk’s saxophone then added new, jazzier layers to the band.

Anita defined sonic diversity as a core tenet of the band. “We’re making songs that sound different and stuff that sounds different within itself, with a lot of different elements to it.” An expression the band used a lot, she said, was “breaking the algorithm.” She elaborated, “Spotify algorithms will create specific sounds. We seek to make music that breaks that algorithm.”

The group named a few other acts in the Twin Cities they appreciated as well, including Marmalade, Vial, Keep for Cheap, Harper’s Jar, Gramma, Lapdogs, Sockhop Massacre, and Baumgardner. “I hope COVID doesn’t kill a lot of these bands that were getting their start right before COVID happened,” she said.

The pandemic

The band had started giving consistent live performances around 2019. “We got more serious with it,” Anita said, “before that it was a one-off show every couple months.” The band saw build up in their shows over the past year, going from three shows a month to three shows a week, and then five shows a week. “Now, it’s zero shows a week, unfortunately,” Anita said.

Their last show, Coyle said, was on March 12, at Mortimer’s in Minneapolis. Since then, he added, it had become much harder to practice. If there was something the band could take care remotely, Anita said, like going over their parts, they did so virtually. Practicing as an ensemble necessitated meeting in-person, and the band has maintained social distance while doing so. However, practice itself has been put on-hold in recent days, as Anita was diagnosed with COVID-19 and she and Andrea needed to quarantine while she recovered. “Luckily, I didn’t get anyone else sick,” she said.

Putting out tracks

“It’s sporadic,” Anita said, on the band’s output of original tracks. Last year, the band had averaged to put out new tracks about once every two months or so. That output had slowed down since the arrival of COVID-19, with the band putting out songs once every four months or so.

Just this August, the band published a small album on their Bandcamp, “I’m Not Even Having Fun Anymore…,” containing three tracks. These three songs had been meant to be part of a larger album, but as the pandemic had left the group uncertain about when they’d next be able to record together, they decided to put out what they had finished. Presently, the band is working on another attempt at a full album, and Anita estimated they are halfway through with the process.

Beyond this album, the group had a few , genre-specific, concept album side projects they were working towards, which Anita noted included a weird emo project and several country songs. “There’s just lots of recording I’d like to get released,” she said.

When asked how the group would like to see Alien Book Club grow, Anita facetiously replied, “I don’t know, just covering Michael Jackson tunes.” Giving a more serious answer, she said she was just hopeful to play another live show. “I agree,” Coyle added. “I really miss playing shows.”

With their commitment to defying both one set genre and algorithmic curation, there’s a punk spirit at the heart of the music Alien Book Club makes. The band’s six members bring experience from across a spectrum of musical backgrounds. And among that spectrum is a small piece of Aitkin County, brought in by a drummer who got his start covering Weezer and Alice in Chains with his friends.

Alien Book Club’s music is available on both Bandcamp and Spotify. As for the social media platforms, they are on Facebook and Instagram (@alienbookclubband), and on Twitter (@alienbclub).

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